Malaysia Travel

George Town Street Art: Capturing the Essence of Penang

George town street art Little Children on a Bicycle

George Town Street Art – 52 iron rod sculptures and numerous colorful murals.

That is how many street art was present in George Town, Penang when I was there last August 2015. It was certainly one of the reasons why I added Penang in my Southeast Asia backpacking trip.

Located in the North East of Penang, George Town (along with Melaka) was awarded the title of World Heritage Site last 2008 by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. It used to be a British trading post and settlement, was named after Britain’s King George III. Nowadays, George Town is a cultural melting pot reflecting Malay and British influences.



History of Street Art in George Town

The popularity of street art in George Town isn’t that old. In fact, it only started a year after George Town was declared a World Heritage Site. Penang State Government initiated the Marking George Town: A Design Idea Competition to physically brand George Town with its recent award on 07 September 2009. The competition aimed to explore innovative ideas in art and design for public spaces, to provide a tangible and distinct identity.

The wrought-iron caricatures by Sculpture at work (Voices from the People) with anecdotal descriptions of the street they adorn, won out of the 40 entries from within the country and abroad. These were installed within the city’s building walls depicting unique and humorous illustrations of the streets’ unique stories.

During George Town Festival 2012, a Lithuanian artist named Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to paint a few murals for ‘Mirrors George Town’. This aimed to celebrate the diversity and multi-culturalism of George Town’s inhabitants. According to Zacharevic, these murals are his “first constructive public art project, 6 walls over 3 months in a town with no public art or graffiti whatsoever”.

These murals shot to fame and was the start of George Town being internationally known as street art haven in Malaysia. More street art festivals soon followed (like Urban Xchange) resulting to now countless murals around Penang.

I have tried searching for the latest exact number of murals in George Town but couldn’t find it.

little girl in blue

Little Kungfu Girl in Blue by Ernest Zacharevic

George Town Street Art

Armed with my maps from the Tourism Information Counter in Penang Airport, I’ve set off to explore on foot around the historical core. The Hop On Free Central Area Transit (CAT) bus also helped a lot in exploring George Town.

Out of the 52, I managed to spot 14 of the iron caricatures by Sculpture at Work. It was fun reading the dialogs and inscriptions. But I’m sure it would have been better if there was a local with me who would be gracious enough to tell the histories of each street.

Lebuh chulia budget hotels

Along Lebuh Chulia and Love Lane where shophouses were converted into budget hotels

 

Sculpture at Work Voices from the people 1

Clockwise from left: Lebuh Carnarvon depicting the high counter of pawnshops for security; Lerong Seck Chuan where rock hard candy was popularly sold; Love Lane where the mistresses of the rich men lived; and Lorong Steward where the narrowest five foot way can be found

George town street art penang jimmy choo

Where Jimmy Choo started his apprenticeship in Lebuh Leith/Lebuh Muntri

george town penang street art lebuh armenian

Lebuh Armenian’s Tua Pek Kong Hneoh Grand Float Procession

jalan transfer george town penang street art

Jalan Transfer showing the Five Foot Way businesses

lebuh armenian george town street art penang

Lebuh Armenian used to be called Coppersmith’s street because of the early Malay braziery making brass and copper wares

gat lebuh chulia george town penang street art

Gat Lebuh Chulia showing the Yeoh Kongsi

lebuh victoria george town street art penang

Lebuh Victoria where shops were built at the seafront

Here are the murals I’ve managed to track down and stumble into by accident while walking the streets of George Town.

ernest zacharevic boy in motorcycle george town penang street art

Ernest Zacharevic’s boy in an old motorcycle along Ah Quee

ballerina and black and white man

Ballerina mural along Stewart with a CodeFC’s stencil art

old man mouth lebuh muntri

Bearded man by Gabriel Pitcher in Muntri

jalan pantai george town penang street art

Near the motorcycle is a mural of a Malaysian man wearing a Malaysian flag inspired shirt

lorong soo hong george town penang street art

These three Chinese girls will really catch your attention along Lorong Soo Hong

george town penang street art lorong soo hong

Dragon dance mascot near Lorong Soo Hong

lorong soo hong hokkien george town penang street art

Purple Hokkien mural at Lorong Soo Hong made by Jim Oo Chun Hee and John Cheng

chinese minion george town penang street art

Chinese minion

My newfound friends at Couchsurfing Penang also were a big help and took us to see the street art at Nagore Mews. The rehabilitated mews is reputedly one of the oldest Chinese row heritage houses. It has been recently converted into a nightlife spot with the wall murals done by Urban Xchange International Street Art Festival.

I was very fortunate to hang out with the Couchsurfing Penang group for their weekly meetup that night. The locals even took us upstairs to the empty living quarters and made us play a sort of a horror game. Not so fun for me who’s afraid of the dark and small spaces! Hahaha. Each room was only more or less 2 square meters so imagine how an entire family lived there!

Retro smoking lady near Nagore street

Retro smoking lady

Colorful artwork by Elle along Bawasah Road

Colorful mural by Elle along Bawasah road

Martin Whatson's angel along Nagore street

Martin Whatson’s angel

Rone's portrait of a woman at Nagore mews

Rone’s portrait of a woman in Nagore mews

One of the large faces in front of Nagore mews by Stryts

One of the large faces in front of Nagore mews by Stryts

Nafir's boy with wheelbarrow of Likes along Nagore

Fauzan Faud's food machine at Nagore road

Fauzan Faud’s food machine

The 101 Lost Kittens Project was born in 2013 by Thailand artist Natthapon Muangkliang, Malaysian artist Louise Low, and Tang Yeok Khang. Its aim is to raise awareness towards stray animals. Cat lovers would surely love these works of art!

ah quee real bruce lee would never do this

Real Bruce Lee would never do this

cheah kongsi cats and humans living together

Cheah Kongsi cats and humans living together

armenian street cats george town penang street art

Armenian street I can help catch rats

George Town Street Art Refresh

Despite having said that he won’t restore the murals, Ernest Zacharevic came back early of 2016 to refresh the murals. Thus giving new life to his works in the last 4 years.

See what they look like now: Ernest Zacharevic’s Facebook Page.

When I was in George Town last August 2015, the mural “Little Children on a Bicycle” was vandalized with “#4.0” in bright yellow paint. The “Boy on Old Motorcycle” was also recently vandalized one week ago with a small dick on his forehead and lines on his face. Both of which Ernest fixed a few days after. It was sad to see these works of art vandalized just because of whatever purpose or idea the perpetrator wants to prove.




These murals, often larger than life, certainly made the walls and streets of George Town more lively and vibrant. Indeed, it has boosted tourism, with street art aficionados adding Penang to their itinerary.  And the authorities have certainly done a good job of keeping everything in check. Ensuring that the heritage of George Town is not lost and that the city is not overrun by unauthorized street art. As they say, too much of something is not good.

What has enticed me about street art is its ephemeral beauty. It fades with time and the elements and could give way to something new. Yet, it could also be repainted should the artist chooses, like what Ernest Zacharevic did with some of his works. Giving new life once again to these acclaimed works of art.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see every piece of art and that was okay with me. I took it one day at a time and let my feet wander the streets of George Town and let myself get lost. And those times that I got lost are the times that I got to see and experience more. Immersing myself in the multi-cultural diversity and the unique heritage of Penang.

Quick Guide to George Town, Penang, Malaysia

How to get to George Town, Penang, Malaysia: 

Plane: There are numerous flight carriers flying to Penang – AirAsia, Malaysia Air, Firefly, Dragonair, Jetstar, Silk Air, Cathay Pacific, Thai Smile. 

Train: You can take the ETS (Electric Train Service) from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth, Penang (duration: 4 hours). Ticket costs 59 MYR (2015) and you can book online via ktmb.com.my or 12go.asia.

From Singapore or Johor Bahru, you have to change trains at Gemas if you want to take the train to Butterworth. You can also take the train from Bangkok to Butterworth, which stops at Padang Besar border.

For more info: Check out Seat61‘s updates.

Related: Taking the sleeper train from Butterworth to Bangkok

Bus: You can take your pick from standard to VIP buses, ranging usually from 28 MYR to 45 MYR. Bus ride is usually around 5 hours or more depending on traffic.

How to get around George Town: 

By bus: Like KL, Penang has an organized bus system. Terminals are at jetty and Komtar. There are buses available at the airport that can take you to George Town.

Rapid Penang also has a free CAT (Central Area Transit) bus that goes around 19 strategic locations. Perfect for exploring Penang for free.

NOTE: Don’t forget to get free maps at the airport. 

By bike: This is common among tourists and bike rental shops are easy to find. You can also opt to rent motorbikes.

By trishaw: Looks very touristy but worth experiencing even once. Similar to pedicabs of the Philippines, these colorful rides can sometimes be more expensive than taxi.

By taxi: Metered cabs are aplenty but you can also opt to use Uber, Grab, or Tripda.


Do you like street art? Which is your favorite city with street art?

Click here for more street art:

Melaka Street Art (Malaysia)

Bonifacio Global City Street Art (Philippines)


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  • Marta
    June 23, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    I find street art fascinating and really enjoyed looking at your photos and read this post. I have never been to Penang but this kind of art is definitely one of the many reasons why I’m hoping to visit one day

  • Voyager
    June 23, 2016 at 9:23 am

    I am always fascinated by Street Art as this form throbs with the all the colour and culture of the place. The street art of Penang is really stunning. Hats of to the creativity and thinking of these unsung artists.

  • Thet Gueco
    June 18, 2016 at 12:42 am

    Never heard such thing like this, they are so beautiful! <3

  • electric bicycles
    June 17, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Good post, love this sharing so much, thank you!

  • thatsofarah
    June 14, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Some of the street arts are now damaged. I hope the authorities will do better job for the remainings.

    • Darlene
      June 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      that’s sad to hear! 🙁 yeah i agree i hope they take care of it better. and just let nature take its own toll on the artworks.

  • Ferna
    June 12, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    I booked a ticket to visit this last year July as I got fascinated with the photos I saw online last 2014. Sadly I wasnt able to pursue my visit. And this one got me again especially with your photos. Amazing.

  • Airina Desuyo
    June 10, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Oww.. I wish I could go on an international backpacking trip too. I’m still saving up (money and courage) haha. I will surely remember this place when I finally decided to go. And oh, I like how you did the slideshow 🙂

  • Trisha Velarmino
    June 9, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    I don’t have any experiences on street art in Asia, I actually thought it’s not popular here! I actually heard that George Town is also famous for British colonial buildings, a part of Asia I have yet to see. Xx

  • Lea Malanum
    June 9, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Wow. Street art. George Town seems like a place I would be engrossed in just looking at the murals and letting my feet take me to wherever. I wish people would stop vandalizing these works of art just for the heck of it. Thank you for this post! Here’s to hoping I could visit one day!

  • Zwitsy
    June 9, 2016 at 6:47 am

    Wow, these murals are awesome, unique, and witty at the same time! I just hope that this kind of art should be observed instead of those vandalism thing done by youngsters.

  • Marge Gavan
    June 9, 2016 at 2:57 am

    Zacharevic’s art is all over Pinterest and Stumbleupon so I am familiar with them. I find them so fascinating, as you know, I am a fan of streetart. That’s why I am so happy that we have our own streeart in BGC. This answers your question by the way haha… Anyway, I am hoping to go to Penang someday and see the art work for myself. My gosh they are so amazing.

  • Jian Marla Reyes
    June 8, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    I love street arts! I have so much respect for those street art artist! Nice blog!

  • Aldrick Agpaoa
    June 8, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Wow! This blog ignited my wanderlust to go and visit George Town someday! Huhuhu! (I need travel funds!) I would also like to experience couch surfing on a “whole new level.” This is a must-save post for me. Thank you!

    P.S.: What’s the theme of your blog, ate Darlene? It’s fancy! <3

  • Odyssa
    June 7, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Penang, a place I have not been, but have been checking out online many times!

  • Yrwin Denzel
    June 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    These artworks looks so creative! It does not look like it’s vandalized! I just wish people in Manila were more considerate about making beautiful and creative artworks like these! It really makes a different and a good statement!

  • Emem
    June 7, 2016 at 10:50 am

    AWESOME PHOTOGRAPHY, I LOVE IT. <3 Thank you for this entry, now I wanna go there! Will watch out on your blog for your other recommendations 🙂

  • Joser Ferreras
    June 7, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Although I don’t always go looking for them when I travel, I appreciate the stories behind them. I’ve been to both Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia but this post gave me a reason to visit Penang soon to see these myself! Thank you for giving us a look! 🙂

  • Keevin Fernandez
    June 6, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Amazing photography!! I’m in love! 😍

  • Mike
    June 6, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    After I read your post and saw the pictures, I smiled. Thanks for that! Art is really beautiful, no standards and no limits! Make me think of wanting to visit Street Art at George Town. I also have seen great art here in Cebu, but Penang’s street art is really my type! Thanks for sharing. You made me happy!

  • Suzanne
    June 6, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Usually street art are portrayed in a negative way but these street art are beautiful and unique. I love how you incorporate some history of the art and importance of protecting them from vandalism. This is definitely a place I need to visit one day.

    Cheers!♡

  • Jeffrey Nerona
    June 6, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    I do like Street Arts personally, they bring up life in cities painted plain. Imagine walking along a street, after a tiring travel and seeing these arts. They definitely will brighten up your day. And yes, Bruce Lee wouldn’t do that to a cat. Haha

  • Princess
    June 6, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    I’ve been fascinated with art ever since and having such murals there hmm… surely will put in one of my list of to visit. Soon. 😊

  • Niks Mendoza
    June 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Interesting read. The frustrated artist in me just craves to see this place, specifically to look for hidden kitties. <3 Haha! Thank you for sharing this. Great read!

  • Relyn
    June 6, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Street Art at George Town feels like contemporary art and old traditions fused together. I love how the murals depict reality in the eyes of the artists. As a cat lover, I would like to visit the murals about cats one day. We’ve got to save the kitties!